Gaia, no, we’re on your side!
This is not a He-Man game, but there is phallic symbolism everywhere.
DEVELOPER: Telenet Japan
RELEASE DATE: 12/26/90 – (JP), 02/91 – (US)
Gaiares, it’s not you, it’s me. I say this with full confidence. I’m tired of shoot-em-ups, especially ones like you that require constant upkeep. You’re high maintenance, and that’s ok. Some people like a challenge. Normally I’m up for one, but after 1990’s shoot-em-up onslaught – Darwin 4081, Whip Rush, Thunder Force III, Twin Hawk, Phelios, XDR, Insector X, Hellfire, Arrow Flash, Fire Shark, Atomic Robo-Kid, Elemental Master, Dangerous Seed, Darius II, and M.U.S.H.A. – I’m tired. Not just physically tired, either, soul tired. That deep down “ready for an extended vacation from this genre” level of exhausted. That said, I will persevere. I’ll reconstruct our time together as objectively as I can. If I let loose with the occasional outburst, forgive me. My load is heavy.
Things are happening! Let’s go!
The story: humanity has polluted Earth to the extent that few humans remain. The Gulfer are a band of space pirates who want to use Earth’s pollution to fuel their weapons of mass destruction. The United Star Cluster of Leezaluth (ugh) implore Earth to stop the Gulfer before it’s too late. If the humans can’t or won’t, Leezaluth will destroy the Earth in order to stop the Gulfer. If humans choose to go after them and succeed, the Leezaluth will bestow humanity with a new Earth-like planet to ruin- er, live on. Only Dan, a rugged, mysterious space pilot steps up to take on the Gulfer challenge and hopefully save the day for mankind.
That’s a real pickle.
Upon first glance, Gaiares looks like your everyday common horizontal shoot-em-up. You shoot, you fly, you destroy clusters of enemies. A cautiously heroic soundtrack plays in the background. But oh wait, what’s that thingamabob flying around your ship? It’s not just an option that spews missiles (although it’s definitely that, as well), it’s TOZ, a weapon system that steals weapons from enemies and give them to you. Say some jerk robots are shooting lasers at you. Unleash TOZ to suck a weapon from one of the jerks (mind any stray fire – once TOZ is released, you can’t shoot until it comes back), then give the robots a taste of their own heat.
I’ll have what that massive cannon’s having.
The TOZ makes Gaiares a game worth playing, if only once. Just by using it on different enemies, you have access to at least a dozen different weapons, possibly more.You can’t, however, store up an arsenal of different weapons. Once you get a weapon, it’s the only one you can use until you unleash the TOZ on a separate enemy. Because of the TOZ, there are no standard weapon power-ups, but there are defensive items that the TOZ can latch onto, like shields, brief invincibility, etc. that provide some much needed protection.
My shields are definitely up.
In the early Genesis days, 4 Meg cartridges were the universal standard. Gaiares is a whopping 8 Megs. The extra 4 megs are for some slightly animated cutscenes at the beginning and end of the game (facial animations, ships flying around, but not much else), and the gorgeous screen-filling bosses, like Death Ghetto (a grim reaper) and Demarina (a robotic mermaid in a shell). Apart from these two niceties, I didn’t think Gaiares looked or played any better than beloved 4-Meg Genesis shmups, like M.U.S.H.A. or Thunder Force III.
Japan’s robotics industry is light years ahead of ours.
The levels have some interesting moments, but grow difficult to appreciate as the game throws environmental hazards at you. For example, sailing into a castle environment before you fight Death Ghetto gave the game a Castlevania-in-space feel that was unexpected and welcome. In this area, however, are guillotines with chains that block you from moving forward. After you’ve shot the chain enough, it will raise, but you have to floor it through the guillotine hole before the blade falls and destroys you. It takes split-second precision and timing to make it, and the game forces you to do it several times in a row.
You want to keep flying, but the Gobstopper has ideas of his own…
Alright, Gaiares, devastating truth time. You’re way too damn hard. It’s just not fun to die several times in a row, because enemies and projectiles literally fill the screen and there’s nowhere to move. Perhaps it’s just a matter of “getting good” at understanding your mysterious ways. But I’m not gonna take the time. I’m burnt out on shoot-em-ups. Good, bad, mediocre, doesn’t matter, I’m worn. So the fact that you are, without a doubt, the hardest shoot-em-up I’ve yet to play on the Genesis, and possibly any other console, doesn’t endear me to you whatsoever.
Time for a drank.
The TOZ system was the only aspect of Gaiares that made me perk up in my chair. For once in a shoot-em-up, if you die in the middle of the stage, you don’t have to wait and hope you don’t die again until a better weapon to come along. I could just use the TOZ on an enemy and get something right away. As I ventured further into Gaiares, my curiosity to see what weapons I could procure and if they would make the game more interesting/somewhat easier to deal with, made me press on further than I wanted to. While some of the weapons were good, nothing made me want to go beyond level 4.
The sweet release of death and not a moment too soon.
And so, Gaiares, my time with you ends here. I know other people have appreciated you over the years, and I’m sure many more will be charmed by your ludicrous challenge and intriguing weapon system in the years to come. Good for them. I’m taking a nap.